by Daniel Olsen
After a 5-0 start, the BYU Cougars are off to one of their best starts in team history. What do they need to do to get to the College Football Playoff? It’s time to take a look at what they can do and how some luck could come their way in the final rankings.
This is one thing in BYU’s power. They are still two years away from having that Big 12 sticker on their helmets so one loss really has them on the outside looking in. Last year, they didn’t even make a New Year’s Six Bowl with the only loss being to Coastal Carolina.
This year, an undefeated Cougars team with an improved strength of schedule would have the case for a New Year’s Six bowl and maybe even the College Football Playoff. This is important to establish themselves as a possible contender. The last three national champions all finished the regular season undefeated. The teams that lose a game during the regular season do seem a bit vulnerable even if they do make it to the College Football Playoff.
Unless there is total chaos, the Cougars should do everything they can to go undefeated. If they don’t, the lack of an auto-bid for a New Year’s Six Bowl might do them in just like last year. The selection committee sent them to the Boca Raton Bowl last year with one loss. The jury is still out on what they think of the 2021 Cougars.
Currently, the AP Top 25 And Coaches Polls think the Cougars are one of the top ten teams. There are 17 unbeaten teams in college football as the halfway mark approaches. The Cougars will have major tests when they face four more Power Five teams in Baylor, Virginia, Washington State and USC. Their next opponent, Boise State, is struggling this season but should still be a good game to get the Cougars ready for Baylor.
SEC has only one bid
It’s important to spread the wealth among the Power Five teams when it comes to the College Football Playoff. Since the Cougars currently aren’t in the Big 12, they need to see every conference as their competition. Since Oregon lost over the weekend to Stanford, there are currently no unbeaten teams in the PAC-12. In the other four P5 conferences, there are ten unbeaten teams left.
Georgia, Kentucky and Alabama are the only undefeated teams left in the SEC. In order for the SEC to only get one bid, the winner of the SEC East would have to have at least two losses. Georgia seems to be the favorite to win on that side. The winner of that game will get a chance to likely lose to Alabama in the conference championship game.
No two loss team has ever made the College Football Playoff before. Even two loss conference champions have been excluded from the playoff. Unless the College Football Playoff expands to 12, a two loss SEC team isn’t getting in ahead of an unbeaten BYU team. Currently, the formidable rivalry of Alabama and Georgia does seem like it will square off two times this season. The Bulldogs would have to win their final six games to be a lock for the playoff.
The worst case scenario could be two SEC teams and likely the Big 12 and Big 10 Champions. If a second SEC team is out of the picture, then the debate will be between BYU, the ACC champion and possibly Cincinnati. Even Oregon could maybe be in the mix if they run the table as the win over Ohio State could make up for their loss last week. Due to strength of schedule, BYU should be the last team in if they are unbeaten and the other conference champions among the P5 all have one loss.
Increase Margin of Victory
The Cougars are currently winning by an average margin of 9.8 points-per-game. While winning is good, it’s not enough on the resume to sway the voters. BYU plays one or two fewer P5 games per season less than most teams vying for the playoff. They need to make up for it by beating up on teams like last year. Otherwise, an argument could be made that they are getting lucky against mediocre P5 teams (looking at you PAC-12 South).
Alabama has won by an average margin of 27.4 points. Georgia has won by an average of 36.4. Most of the top teams are winning by double digit margins. If BYU can get into the double-digit margin of victory range, they should have a case to prove to the committee that they are just as deserving of a College Football Playoff berth as the top teams in the country.
BYU could finish undefeated, but it seems like at some point they may be likely to fall to one of the upcoming tougher opponents. Baylor seems most likely. The SEC is out of their hands, but they have only received two bids once. When the back half of the schedule lightens up, BYU should be able to average a double-digit margin of victory. The million dollar question is whether they will finish the season 12-0. They likely will have at least one loss, and that blemish on their record might cost them a CFP bid and possibly the NY6 as well. Currently, the Cougars are projected to go to the Independence Bowl by most national experts.
After the expectations built from the previous and current season, anything less than the NY6 Bowls might seem like a letdown. However, the Cougars should be going bowling this season which is something to celebrate. If they stay true to their identity, they will be a tough out.
Featured image courtesy Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News